December 5, 2016

Bridging the Gap

An innovative program connects old and young.

Jamie Henderson

Somebody once said, “Family is the soil in which we grow the next generation.” In a world with increasingly dysfunctional families, do these wise words continue to be relevant today?

Students in the Greater Collegedale School System—comprised of A. W. Spalding Elementary, Collegedale Adventist Middle School, and Collegedale Academy—participate in the nationwide Partnering for Eternity (PFE) and ASSIST programs. These programs highlight the notion that family does not end with blood.

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First grader Nate Joy loves his senior mentor Esther Tyler and her cat Susie.

Thanks to an anonymous donor, Southern Adventist University has created the programs whose aim is to decrease elderly isolation and bridge the ever-widening gap between generations. PFE and ASSIST pair a student with a senior mentor to meet with on a regular basis. Participating K-12 students are able to cultivate a meaningful relationship alongside senior adults, while also defraying the cost of a Seventh-day Adventist education. Eighty percent of the overall program funding comes from Southern Adventist University; the other 20 percent is thanks to Greater Collegedale School System (GCSS) fund-raising.

How Does It Work?

The PFE program is a scholarship opportunity available to A. W. Spalding Elementary and Collegedale Adventist Middle School students. Participating students visit their senior mentor, along with their parents, one hour each week, the date and time of which are arranged according to the preferences of children and their mentors. After each visit students submit a reflection, a time sheet of sorts, briefly journaling the visit. The PFE program then grants the student $25 per one-hour visit toward their school bill, up to $100 each month.

Likewise, the ASSIST program operates more like a job for Collegedale Academy students. Students participating in the ASSIST program are required to visit two to four hours each week. Similar to the PFE program, students must turn in a reflection sheet at the end of each senior visit. They then earn $10 an hour, credited to their Collegedale Academy school bill. Additionally, academy students are eligible for a scholarship to Southern Adventist University, up to $1,000—$250 for each semester they participate in the program.

These programs are designed to strengthen multigenerational relationships, and there are many ways to do just that. Students often interact with their mentors by completing chores or engaging in other companionship activities, such as reading, playing games, having worship together, or completing projects together.

Young and Old Together

Collegedale Academy junior Thomas Thompson has been visiting his senior mentor Martha Holman for two years. When Miss Holman had a house fire this summer, Thomas supported her and helped her get her home back in order. “I like to sit down and talk with her,” Thomas said, “she always has something interesting [to say], and I can talk to her about religion. She loves it too.” Thomas considers Miss Holman to be the grandmother he never had.

Sarah Joseph, a sophomore at Collegedale Academy, visits weekly with her mentor Anne Benefield. Miss Benefield was reluctant to join the program at first, but now she and Sarah both look forward to their visits. Sarah has become an important part of Anne’s family, and joins her extended family for holiday dinners.

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Collegedale Academy junior Thomas Thompson considers senior mentor Martha Holman the grandmother he never had.

Even elementary-age students form strong bonds with their mentors. Nate Joy, a first grader at A. W. Spalding, loves his afternoons spent with Esther Tyler and her cat, Susie. They color, talk about their days, and admire her beautiful seashell collection. Nate also likes that sometimes Miss Tyler has treats for him, such as Popsicles, activity books, or puzzles.

The GCSS is intentional about giving as many opportunities for spiritual growth as possible, as well as fostering relationships with Jesus Christ. “The PFE and ASSIST programs give our GCSS campuses an opportunity for students to practice service to others, in addition to experiencing a tangible aspect of spiritual life,” says GCSS, PFE, and ASSIST program administrator Angi Howell.

PFE and ASSIST are not just available to GCSS schools. They are nationwide programs of which all North American Division schools are eligible to participate in through Southern Adventist University. They help to bridge generational gaps; they represent a way to make Adventist education more affordable; they offer an opportunity for spiritual growth. Beyond all these wonderful benefits, however, they help those participating to learn from one another, thus creating an education and lasting relationships that span generations.

Jamie Henderson is a junior at Collegedale Academy in Collegedale, Tennessee.